Book Reviews

Questland by Carrie Vaughn | AtSite.Store

TW: PTSD, recollections of a school shooting, gaslighting

Questland is pure geek-bait, and a fun book for all of those who dream of going to Hogwarts and Middle Earth. My husband and I gave our kid a name in Sindarin (Elvish), so basically the book is Carrie-bait. It revels in a quickly moving plot, a gorgeous setting, and a plethora of fantasy references, but suffers from a lack of developed characters.

Dr. Addie Cox is a literature professor who loves fantasy in every form of media. Harris Lang, a tech billionaire, hires her to accompany a group of mercenaries into Insula Mirabilis, an island resort Lang is developing which caters to fantasy lovers and, especially, to gamers. The island has been cut off from everyone, including Lang, by a mysterious and deadly force field and total cessation of communication. Addie has the gaming skills and knowledge of fantasy motifs to guide the mercenaries through the inevitable mazes and riddles on the island. Moreover, she is the ex-girlfriend of Dominic Brand, the lead designer and the island’s apparent leader. Harris Lang hopes that Cox will be able to connect with or at least distract Dominic while the strike team gets the force field shut off and control of the island back to Lang (no one calls him Harris).

Addie is an engaging and generally sympathetic narrator. She has PTSD from a school shooting that she survived years before, and is tired of being thought of as fragile, and though she is not physically an action person she never whines and she keeps out of the way in combat situations. While the book addresses her trauma and grief, it keeps the focus on Addie’s empowerment and growing independence and avoids being dark overall.

Addie quickly identifies the roles of the members of her team by what their class would be in Dungeons and Dragons: the Ranger, the Cleric, Artificer, and Barbarian, leaving her as the Bard. Unfortunately, these characters never show depth beyond their assigned class. Torres, the leader of the group (the Ranger) is protective, smart, and thoughtful. Rucker, the Barbarian, warms up to Addie after initially resenting her presence, and asks her for books to read. The others have virtually no personality at all.

Similarly, Dominic has little personality other than being a complete and utter douchebag. He’s essentially John Hammond from Jurassic Park only younger, very attractive, and into elves instead of dinosaurs. I could not see why Addie was drawn to someone so utterly narcissistic and short-sighted, which means that several of Addie’s actions fall under the “Too Stupid to Live” category. She has a tendency to remind the group, “Never split up the party,” an EXCELLENT rule, and then undermines her display of common sense entirely by wandering off for a better look at various magical creatures.

Addie is by turns intelligent, shrewd, self-deprecating and funny, and totally idiotic. Granted, if you dangled a unicorn in front of me, I, too, would wander after it despite knowing that, just as Addie specifically states, it’s a TERRIBLE idea. The island is full of talking animals, unicorns, dragons, etc, and I too would be helpless against them. And no, there are no cyborg/hybrid/animatronic people because, as one developer, exclaims, “That’s how you get Westworld!”

The charm of this story is definitely more about the world than the characters. The book is full of fantasy references. If at any point in this review you’ve asked yourself, “What’s a Dungeons and Dragon class? What’s Westworld and why don’t we want it? Who the heck is John Hammond? What’s Sindarin?” then you will be completely lost when reading this book. I say this not to gate-keep (“You’re gate-keeping?” a character gasps, horrified, at one point) but merely to highlight how very much this book’s success depends on knowing what fans of fantasy, especially those around my age, found formative, and giving us more of it. This book is tailor-made for readers who know that “It’s dangerous to go alone,” and who understand what it means when Addie tells someone, “You’re not Elrond…you’re Saruman.” 

This book, with its gorgeous scenery and costuming, unicorns and dragons, is pure and utter fan service. It’s also a clever take-down of a certain kind of narcissism in which a person insists on being the center of every story and sees everything and everyone around them as props. I had a blast reading this book despite often being baffled by Addie’s choices. On one hand, I can tell you that the character depth and development is minimal and the ending is too busy priming the reader for a sequel to be completely satisfying. That being said, since any book that involves D&D alignments knows the way to my heart, I gobbled up this book like a big old bowl of buttery popcorn.

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